Review: The 114th Varsity Show

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Last night, like many of you, The Blue and White attended the premiere of the 114th Annual Varsity Show. The Blue and White staff reviews.

Lions, erections, and bears, oh my!

The Bwog is no stranger to hate–for details, see our ill-fated Yorkie Roundtable and that time we reminded you our name is not spelled with all-caps–but we’ve never seen anything like the hate we saw last night. After months of lukewarm anticipation, the 114th Annual Varsity Show unfolded last night in Roone Arledge to an almost sold-out student crowd and a group of terrified-looking adults. It was: sex-soaked, small in thematic scale and oppressively heterosexual–but fun.

The musical numbers alternated between sports-movie, heart-stirring exhortations (“Strong, Beautiful,” “Hero”) and quaint Gene Kelly/Busby Berkeley-style throwbacks (“Shoulder to Shoulder,” “Well, Woman”). The dialogue was smothered in jokes about sex, bawdy body humor, hate, and Barnard hate. And the boy-meets-girl, boy accuses girl of lying, boy finds out girl’s okay after all storyline—tied into the plot of “Lysistrata”—induced one audience member to comment to this reviewer, “Oh, you poor straights.”

Despite some automatic dancing (excepting Kieron Cindric, who gestured and gyrated like a pro), the acting was delightful. One audience member described female lead Sarah Dooley as “the shit,” and she was. Another commented that Lauren Glover “managed to make herself as large as Judith Shapiro, which is impressive, because she’s a small girl.” Michael Snyder was appropriately forlorn as a Cornell transfer, and Will Snider hammed it up as a conflicted, sinister James McShane. (Prompting this reviewer to wonder: Do the real people depicted in the V-Show feel strange about random students fictionalizing and mocking their lives?)

The spot-on send-ups of the fall semester controversies were well played indeed. Ahmadinejad, the hunger strike, and the hate crimes all had their turn and, in each case, got their due. In these scenes, it was the details that brought the laughs—the carefully placed Gatorade bottles around the strikers’ tents, the pitch-perfect parody of “We do not have homosexuals in our country, I do not know who told you that,” and the denunciation of anything written in Lewisohn bathrooms as automatic hate-speech reminded us of how truly absurd the real-life events had been. Remarked another V-Show-goer, “I kind of forgot about that. I can’t believe that actually happened.”

In its best moments, it was witty, cathartic (another overheard: “It made me feel good to realize everyone else hates it here too”), and inspirational (Alma Mater and Alexander Hamilton dispensing advice is always a sure-fire way to tug at latent school pride). In its worst, it was narrow and crass. But, all said, the former elements overwhelmed the latter, and damned if we weren’t all giddy, humming and smiling, when we stepped into the cold, wet night.


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  1. Brava!  

    As a cynical senior who has seen three of these, I want to congratulate the entire cast of the show. This was an incredible production, from Sarah Dooley's acting, her and Michael's unexpectedly extraordinary voice, Lauren Glover's all-in performance (particularly brave considering that the character she was portraying was in the first row) and Will Snider's star-turn James McShane. But the real credit must go to James Williams and Rob Trump for capturing Columbia to a nearly unmatched degree and for writing a genuinely funny piece of drama.
    P.S. I've kind of fallen in love with Sarah Dooley. Anybody know if she's single?

  2. i agree  

    it was 10 times better than last year's show. Dooley and Snyder's voices were magnificent, and Dooley truly proved to be THE next talent of columbia's campus. that girl will go far.

  3. go see it!  


    and yea, Sarah Dooley was amazing.

  4. great show  

    But yes, "oppressively heterosexual" is exactly it. When will v-show grow up and have a gay character?

  5. Kieron Cindric  

    is gay enough that there really doesn't need to be an actual gay character, or it might seem excessive.

  6. Post-(Marxian)  

    Oh, the colonial oppression in this play! Maybe the hidden subtexts will appear one day.



  7. asdf  

    I think that the varsity show is a racist institution at Columbia...There wasn't a single black character...p.s. I thought the show was mediocre at best

    • Well...

      One of the best recurring V-Show stars back in the day, Jordan Barbour, is black.

      But hey, if you don't like it, you don't have to go. Or (and this assumes you are black) try out next year and "be the change you want to see in the world."

      Making self-righteous and annoying comments on Bwog may make you feel good right now, but it certainly doesn't do much in the long run.

    • V-show viewer  

      I disagree that the show was mediocre, but I do wonder why there was such an absence of color from the cast. The one African-American actor was relegated to the smallest of parts, though he did get one shining moment on stage -- as a facilities worker.

      The other campus minorities? Forget it; they were nowhere to be found.

      This lack of diversity has important implications for the tenor of the show. When you crack one-liners about Asians on Xanga or having "more Chins than Lunar Gala," the absence of the campus’ major minority groups calls into question the smattering of racially charged jokes. Do they represent biting satire or merely satire that bites?

      • hmm  

        uhh maybe not that many minorities tried out. I wouldn't immediately assume institutional bias.

        • V-show viewer  

          I haven't assumed bias. Rather, I'd like to hear from production staff more information about the events and facts that led to the eventual script and cast composition.

          That's why I said, "I do wonder why there was such an absence of color from the cast." I'm asking a question, not drawing a conclusion.

      • Whatever  

        If one of the crew members was Asian, you'd be fine with those jokes. Likewise with other social groups. Grow a pair of balls kid.

        "In the immortal words of Pi Kappa Alpha: 'I don't need your consent.' " Priceless.

  8. Loved it  

    AH the Varsity Show was so good. Sarah Dooley is not only a terrific actor but an amazing singer as well. "Strong, Beautiful" filled me with Barnard pride... and I'm a SEAS guy.

  9. Jeff  

    I didn't like the joke about me yesterday. I may be a midget. But I'm not on steroids.

  10. ok so  

    I think the cast were wonderfully talented, the best of the best, and if there were not many prominent minorities, it is because they were beaten out by these wonderful people. Don't start judging the cast because they aren't minorities- that's just as bad as racism the other way around.


    Es que yo no se que pasa.
    Yo no como kielbasa.

    No hay latinos
    en el campus de Columbia?
    Lo que yo quiero ver
    es un poco de Cumbia.

    Quiero mas diversidad
    en mi bella universidad.

    Si el VS tuviese Regueton
    Me gustaria un Monton.

    Pero no, Varsity Show
    Where is de Latin flow?


    Mr. Suave

  12. WOAH  

    New controversy!! THE VARSITY SHOW IS A HATE CRIME!!!!!!

  13. wait,

    why didn't bwog mention the two shout-outs they received? (priceless)

  14. well  

    I was sitting one row behind Judith Shapiro last night and she seemed to be enjoying the show.

    I thought it was great, definitely better than last year's.

  15. yay  

    i thought the show was so much better than last year, but i'd like to see sarah dooley play someone besides a socially awkward, yet charming dork. likewise, i'd like to see tobin play a character that isn't a total douche-bag.

    they were both fantastic in v-show though.

  16. to be fiar  

    the reason no minorities are represented is that the columbia theater community is extremely insular and cliquey, and essentially only tried and true royalty of the program are cast for roles in the v-show (thus the "i'm a bitch" solo number being given to someone with no singing or acting talent). v-show is no more racist the all-white theater program that creates it.

  17. liar  

    "all-white theater program"? Have you SEEN any other productions on campus this year? that's just a lie.

  18. Ugh  

    Note to self—Never comment on Bwog.
    As the same person who posted numbers 1 and 7, I hate that I paved the way to vitriol about a show that made me laugh during an otherwise-shitty week. The performances were extraordinary, the script was fantastic, and while it would be easy to nitpick about tiny imperfections for hours, it would doing the exact thing that the show was warning us against——blindly hating everything and focusing on the flaws.
    I didn't mean to imply malice on the part of the producers, directors, or writers regarding the racial composition of the show, and while the V-Show probably is cliquey, it is hardly the only campus organization to suffer from this——every publication, music group, club funding board, performance group, competition group, vocational society, athletic team, and Greek organization on this campus has problems with insularity to one degree or another.
    Don't worry. Be happy. And stop being pricks.

  19. hmm

    They should upload a performance of it to Youtube. I can't be bothered seeing it in person.

  20. v show

    needs to actively recruit and develop talent of color--writers, production folk, chorus members and actors.

    that's all they need to do.

    • haha  

      "that's all they need to do."

      That's absurd. Every organization on this campus that's not a cultural group knows how insanely difficult it is. I agree that V-show should make an attempt. But it's unrealistic to believe they'll have more success than anyone else has had.

    • anonymous

      I agree with you completely. Minorities need someone to come hold their hands, lead them to the right activities, and help them learn how it's done. Because they're inferior like that, right?

    • Oh please

      Affirmative Action for the Varsity show! Just what we need!

  21. VS114

    Is it true that some students of color (organizations) are organizing a diversity filled varsity show during reading week to be performed in Morningside Park. If so, that's going to be awesome. I think an urban varsity show would be spectacular.

  22. anom....  

    i think most of the racial jokes in the vshow are pretty common place, i mean who HASN'T heard the xanga one before... and a joke about lunar gala. well, lunar gala is a MAJOR campus event...of course it makes it in. vshow requires auditions, i'm sure if talented minorities auditioned they would make it in... it's definitely NOT RACIST.

  23. the dude  

    they really need to work on the audio. often the orchestra was louder than the voices! and it was often impossible to understand what they were saying...

    but when i understood it was awesome. and when i couldnt understand i just laughed at everyone else's cue.

  24. even

    though i agree it was amazing, i also agree with the person above me - the audio problems were...problematic.

  25. Facecrook  

    I kind of agree with 37 and 38. When the instruments sounded, it was like listening to a foreign-language song.

  26. hmm  

    will snider rocked, it was pretty heterosexist but hey it's inspired by columbia...and the eye hated juno.

  27. grow up  

    can't we get over the pettiness of who was or was not represented and appreciate the insane amount of work and talent that went into the show? if there had been one black character in the show, they would have become the token black and that wouldn't have been enough for all the stupid haters on here. seriously, it was the best vshow in my 4 years here. hands down. kudos to everyone involved.

  28. Wait  

    Where the fuck are the Columbia women?

  29. god damnit  

    enough with the cries of prejudice people. some (I among them) would say that affirmative action has a great deal of merit in certain genres for achieving desired goals, but cmon, you've got to be fucking kidding me. racist? "heterosexist?" I sincerely hope that these comments are all from one commenter who thinks the styfling amount of political correctness on our campus is hilarious, in which case i applaud you.

    this year's v-show put together an outstanding performance - i did not see a single person not come out of that show smiling and reciting their favorite jokes. pat them on the back for a job well done and get over the fact that the cast and writing could not manage to encompass the entire beautiful diversity of humanity with one 15 person show.


  30. lns

    Those complaining about the "lack of diversity" should be ashamed of themselves and do your homework before making such false accusations. Give me a break!! You must have no idea how many hours these kids have worked to put on this first class production. You should be PROUD to have this talented and dedicated group representing Columbia & Barnard and THANK them for putting on such an incredible show for your entertainment. The Varsity Show is a Columbia tradition that most look forward to seeing just to laugh and have fun...... geez, lighten up! I applaud the entire cast and creative team for dedicating every spare moment of their lives for the last 6 months to this spectacular show, you all deserve a standing ovation!!!!

  31. ummm  

    why hasn't anyone mentioned the music? the music was incredible -- best I've heard from ANY vshow. kudos to the composers.

    • music  

      i thought the lyrics were great but the music was slow.

    • Yeah  

      The music was incredible. I can't believe full-time college students had both the time and energy to write that. I can't imagine writing vocal parts, orchestral accompaniment, and original lyrics in addition to all the schoolwork that the typical Columbia student gets, and without the incentive of monetary compensation! Crazy.

  32. question  

    Did "Strong, Beautiful" remind anyone of another song? I can't get it out of my head/place it...

  33. missed topic  

    I really would have liked to see jokes about MANHATTANVILLE!

    It was awesome though.

  34. i just think  

    it's interesting that, because activism at Columbia tends to be a students-of-color thing, and because this was a white cast, they made all the women the activists... did no one else find that interesting?

    congratulations to the cast and crew for an excellent show. i'm a senior and this was my first time seeing the varsity show, and i was really amazed.

  35. hmmmmmm  

    I thought it was a great show. Diversity is important, BUT we don't really know how many students of color auditioned. It's possible there was bias, but it's also possible there wasn't. Maybe Spec or Bwog or any individuals could try to talk to someone involved with the production to see?

    Sometimes it is problematic if organizations are too insular, but I'm not really sure how it can be totally avoided. If I was a member of the Varsity show and had a talented friend and encouraged them to try out, and then there is an equally talented person who I didn't encourage to apply because I had never met them, did I really do anything wrong? I think that insularity is an issue across organizations, and it's really hard to say how to best achieve diversity. From my own experiences at Columbia, sometimes I will be considering joining several things and it seems like all of them might be interesting, but then I'm more inclinded to join the one that my friend is in or something. Also I was involved in an organization freshmen year where the leaders decided that we needed more involvement from certain groups, but then it seemed like they were targeting people purely because they wanted to be able to say that they did indeed have members of x group in the organization. And I feel like that was kind of ineffective, if people felt that the organization was making a superficial attempt to achieve diversity by filling a quota or being able to take colorful photos without really gaining an understanding of why members of certain groups were more or less inclinded to join the organization.

  36. to all the haters  

    oh, shut up!

  37. ugh

    Learn how to write a theatre review, Bwog. This is absolutely pointless.

  38. actually...  

    there was totally a black kid in the chorus. And he did a great job for a freshman.

  39. feh

    Why bother attempting any originality in your identity politics-fueled outrage? Just go here...

  40. Hey,  

    V114 was really great, but where's the review for Snow White? That shit was messed up. But pretty damn good. And also (I think?) student-written. You better have gone to see it, Bwog.

    Also . . . Way to not mention the V114 C-team at all, i.e. the ridiculously talented group of people that made this whole thing possible. Benjamin Velez and Katie Hathaway and their cohorts are inspirations.

    • You're right  

      Such a pity this space wasn't devoted to jerking off the C-team. Who cares? Only a theater person would complain about a really good review from Bwog, which never likes anything.

    • Yeah  

      I'd say inspirations is a bit of a strong word. They put on a good show, and from what I hear they a cool people, but I wouldn't call any of them any more inspirational than a majority of the Columbia student body.

      Good call on Snow White, though. Bwog, get on that.

  41. Uh...

    "Fun" perhaps, but "funny"? Not so much. This show was almost completely lacking in subtlety, and the jokes were all really obvious. The acting was good, that's true, but the writers need to go home.

  42. Was fun  

    The surface-level plot was pretty okay, but I really started to enjoy the first act once I figured that it was a really sharp expression of Columbia's widespread fears. Stereotypes were constructed that people fear both meeting and becoming. What if I'm actually that awkward, what if I'm really that bitter (should I be that bitter?), what if my application had been shredded by a random asshole in Admissions. What if the huge, truly inspiring activist movements on campus are really manipulated into happening by people in power, pathetic adults who twist student feeling for their own ends? Would we ever be noticed, if we didn't let ourselves be manipulated into such things? Could we ever get anything done on our own?

    Second act, this undercurrent fizzled out and we were left with episodic lampooning of the year's Greatest Hits In Insane Collegiate Political Life, which were I admit pretty funny. It is hard to say whether this was more owed to good writing or just the richness of the material. The show wound down weakly with truly Disney levels of heteronorm, the kind of cloying pairoff-and-wrapup that made me wonder just when we'd fallen into High School Musical.

    Still. "You can be a hero" touched me, and not in a rape-whistle kind of way. I liked the show. I laughed a lot. The A-jad scene had me flashing back to that hot September day when it was not a parody, and I laughed until it hurt.

    Nice job, V114. Nice job.

    ps Don't make your token black guy the maintenance worker next time, and/or cut down the race jokes; these two things put together made you look pretty bad.

  43. Protest...  

    the Varsity Show cause of hate crimes!

  44. Great!  

    V114 was PHENOMENAL! Very well done.

  45. yoyo  

    i just loved it. vshow 114, you have my heart.

  46. i agree  

    The show was utterly fantastic — I have only praise for the outstanding cast, well-written songs, and fabulous musicians.

    Seeing the VShow reminded me of what drew me to Columbia in the first place — quality individuals, a stunning sense of snark, and Barnard jokes.

  47. brillz:  

    "i don't know who you're taking the night from, but they manage to get it back every year."

  48. that girl  

    sophie rager looks like a prostitute and looks like one too. Even when she's just in the chorus you could feel her overacting from the balcony.

  49. Well,  

    If Sophie is in fact a prostitute, she probably works in Laura Kleinbaum's brothel.

  50. haha

    people really want Strong Beautiful to sound like something. really, it's just a little bit awesome. a lot a bit awesome. how did the composers ever have time to write those songs and orchestrate everything? kinda astounding, really. really.

  51. olivia + shruti  

    "the writers need to go home"???? we're sorry if you thought the show "wasn't funny", because we were bummed that we missed lines due to the constant laughing around us during both shows that we attended. and, the scene parodying bollinger/ahmadinejad's dialogue was actually brilliant. additionally-- if you're not the one writing the music, it's pretty easy to claim that any song is reminiscent of past songs. but these composers did a great job of incorporating some pretty original songs into the show that of course people aren't mentioning as much as the one, albeit awesome, song that vaguely reminded them of something else.
    bottom line: congrats, 114. we're very proud of you.

  52. but actually

    the writer probably should go home, they're really tired. i heard those guys don't get too much sleep.

  53. Anonymous  

    and tobin mitnick deserves credit here. a hilarious, well prepared, breakout role.

    and to the rest of the cast and crew - fly to the fucking bahamas or something for the rest of the week, you deserve it.

  54. anon  

    Anyone know where I can dl a copy of "strong beautiful" or watch it on youtube?

  55. Anonymous  

    Um, Sarah Dooley - you stole every move in your playbook from Michael Cera, from the over-the-top awkwardness in your youtube series to your utterly exhausting shifty-footed posture in the v-show. Cute at first, but by the end of the 3 hours, I wanted to nail you to the floor. Find a new schtick.

    Otherwise, a fantastic show. I was cracking up the whole time. And shout out to the production team!! Props (especially from the pinkberry scene) were rendered perfectly.

  56. Thomas Bunsen


  57. barnard?  

    What did people think about the message it sent about barnard overall?

  58. anti-Whitney  


  59. anon

    Does anyone know when the songs will be posted online?

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